One of the recurring themes from last year’s earthquake in Sichuan is official corruption and the extent it contributed to the collapse of substandard schools, killing a still unknown number of children. Another, less discussed issue, is the degree to which many local officials in the disaster zone were victims themselves.
In Beichuan, where as many as 15,000 residents were killed, a quarter of the local officials also perished in the quake. Many of the survivors lost family members. When my colleague Lin Yang and photographer Ian Teh went back to Sichuan last fall, we met with a Beichuan official whose wife and daughter were both killed on May 12. Zhang Kangqi keeps a drawing of them, sketched from old ID photos, by his bed. All other mementos of them were buried in Beichuan. (You can see Ian’s photos of the recovery efforts, including a portrait of Zhang, in this gallery.)
Zhang immersed himself in recovery efforts, but not all his co-workers had the same capacity to work through their suffering. A few weeks before we visited Dong Yufei, another local official who lost his son, killed himself. “He was a good man,” Zhang said of Yu, “but not everyone can handle the pressure. His child had died.”
Yesterday brought the grim news that another Beichuan official committed suicide. Feng Xiang, the vice director of the Beichuan publicity department, had lost his 7-year-old son in the quake. Shortly before his death Feng, 33, wrote a post on his blog titled “What If,” urging his family not to grieve. “Son, when you left, your father did not have a future, did not have hope, did not have any expectations,” Feng wrote. “To be with you is my biggest joy.”